Without Soldier and Dillon, there would /be /no Scarcity Sanctuary, so what happens when Soldier is missing? Soldier is the head of the household, the provider, along with Dillon. But, Soldier is so much more. He's the one who makes all the troubled boys who come through Scarcity feel safe, like they can take on a world that has treated them so badly. He gives everyone strength, love, and support. And if you think the boys from Scarcity are losing their minds over his absence, what about Dillon? Soldier is the other half of his soul. Where is Soldier?
The rumbling noise of the Humvee covered the sounds of chatter among his men. Captain Keith Marsh kept an eye on the side of the road, peering into the abandoned buildings as they drove through the village. The driver, Matthew Bangs-- Banger--was doing the same as he drove the big truck from one side to the other, weaving through the street, as they all looked for anything out of order. Banger had managed to get them a transport Humvee which gave them room for all eight of them on the mission.
Behind him, Tiny and Emo were laughing at some joke that Double D had told from the back. These two seemed awfully young to Keith. They followed orders with the zeal and eagerness of unseasoned soldiers. They'd do fine. Neither had ever caused a problem and always showed respect, never questioning authority. He liked them and they seemed to be good friends, happy to serve their country together.
In the seat behind them were two really good soldiers, in his opinion. Both were paying attention to the task at hand, which was watching carefully out the windows for any movement or sign of recent inhabitance. Johnny Mason, called Jarhead, because of the Mason jars and he kept his head buzzed, was right behind him and beside him was Mitch Baker. They simply called him Bake. He had good ideas and Marsh had thought of recommending him for advancement. He knew Bake had a wife and two daughters at home, they sent care packages with lots of cookies for the unit.
Bailey sat behind them, quiet as usual. Keith considered him an average soldier. He did as he was told, never bucked authority, but his heart wasn't in it. He seemed to have checked out. He'd have to see about getting Bailey some kind of counseling. If he became too far removed from what was going on, he'd become a detriment to the unit. Double D was soldier all the way. He seemed to enjoy the missions and kept them all laughing when they had a chance to let go a little.
Right now, Marsh didn't want laughter to cause a problem if there were any insurgents nearby. They'd been told this village had long been empty, but you never knew. He turned to tell Double D to cool it.
"D, can it with the jokes. Keep an eye out back there. A little quiet, please."
"Yes, Cap'n. Like if they're out there they can't hear this Humvee."
"Good point, D." Captain Marsh had to give him that. He turned back and resumed looking into the buildings along his side. He didn't have another thought before the truck hit an IED and blew straight up, before coming down.
The blast hit the driver's side, sending a wave of fire toward Keith, blowing him right out of the vehicle. He hit the ground and knew no more.
Marsh had no idea how long he lay there, concussed, burning along his left side from his head, neck, and shoulder down. When he came to, he groaned and moved a little, immediately becoming aware of extreme pain on his left. He twisted his head, moved his arms and legs, and turned to see the Humvee still burning. His men!
He managed to crawl toward the truck and saw that there was literally nothing left of the driver. Damn it, Banger was a good man. Had been a good man. Marsh pulled himself up and saw that both Tiny and Emo were gone, their eyes staring out of their bloodied faces, a piece of the side door was impaled nearly through Emo's torso and Tiny neck was severed and his head lay back at an odd angle. Marsh reached in and pulled them out, laying them against a nearby building. He returned to the truck, trying to avoid the flames that still licked dangerously from the driver's side.
He saw movement and yelled for Jarhead and Bake. He heard grunts and he crawled into Tiny and Emo's seats and reached for Mason, pulling him right over the seat, having no time to care about whatever injuries he had. The truck could blow at any moment. Once he had him out and sitting against the building he returned for Baker. By this time the other soldier was ready and he reached for Keith as he got to him and he did the same, pulling him over the seat and out of the truck. He saw that Baker had a large bloody area on his leg and he had to help him to the side of the building.
"Got to get D and Bailey."
Marsh turned, possibly too fast and fell flat on his face in the street, reaching for the truck. He was lying there, burned and bleeding, unconscious when another unit came to their rescue. He didn't know how long he was there before help came.
He didn't see Double D and Bailey bail out of the truck and look at the four men against the building. They ran, Double D pulling at a reluctant Bailey. He didn't see D force Bailey, who was fatally injured, to keep running. He never knew they found an old house near the end of the village and hid there. While he lay in the street, unaware, Bailey died from his wounds and Donald Durnham went mad watching him.
Double D was found later that morning but by then he'd convinced himself it was all Captain Marsh's fault. Marsh had failed to get them out like he had the others. He told the soldiers in the unit who rescued him that he'd been captured and that Bailey had died when they roughed him up. He was unaware that the soldiers he'd saved were able to tell the new unit the truth; that Double D and Bailey had run. They had looked at the five of them lying in the street by the burning Humvee and they'd run as far and as fast as they could.
He couldn't have known that Donald didn't know that Bailey had been mortally wounded and unable to keep up with him as he ran. Double D's engaging personality and wit had kept Marsh from realizing that Donald had been unable to handle the fighting, the lack of sleep, the fear any longer and had been planning to run for weeks. The explosion had been his opportunity. But how was Marsh to know that?
The next time he was aware, he was in a hospital in Germany and he felt like he'd been burned in oil. He checked right back out, not wanting the reality as it was then. He did that many times as he went through several operations and was transferred in a fog stateside to end up at Bethesda at the military hospital there.
Weeks went by, and then months. He was told that the two men he'd saved, who lived, had come to visit and thank him but he refused to see them. He didn't want thanks. He'd failed to get them all out. He'd passed out before he could get to Double D and Bailey. He couldn't bear to ask about them, to hear that they'd burned up because he failed to reach them.
The nightmares came often and furious. He woke screaming and was forced to talk to counselors. He was given the Silver Star for his bravery in saving Baker and Mason, but he couldn't bear to look at it. The day he walked out of the hospital for the last time, he still carried that failure on his shoulders and fell into depression. Upon leaving the hospital, and the service, he carried with him full honors, which he threw away. The Army, the war, was over for Captain Keith Marsh. That day, he became, simply, Soldier.
Soldier woke and knew instantly that he was restrained. What the hell? He was groggy, but very much aware that he wasn't in bed with Dillon in their home in Texas. He began to make tiny movements, testing his surroundings and his situation. He knew he was in danger. He had that intense feeling he used to get in the service just before a mission, fear mixed with anticipation and anxiety. He had the knowledge and the training he needed for success each time his unit had gone out, but only a fool didn't worry about things going wrong, unforeseen happenings, and just your basic FUBAR.
Taking inventory, he knew that he was tied down to a hard bed of some sort, with rope around both his wrists and ankles. He wore only his underwear and a T-shirt. At first he had trouble focusing, but was becoming more aware the longer he was awake. He was hot and sweating hard. His mouth was dry and he knew he was dehydrated. He knew the feeling, having spent a lot of time in a desert. He felt weak, tired, and damned hungry. He began to take deeper breaths to see if he'd been beaten or hurt. It hadn't been pain that awakened him but he needed to know what he was working with before he let anyone know he was awake. Moving muscles here and there, trying to assess his strength and ability took a few seconds. While going through that, he thought about the last thing he remembered.
Leaving Dillon and the boys at Scarcity, even for a couple of days, was one of the hardest things he'd ever done. He loved his life there and he loved everyone in the family. But, Dillon, oh my, Dillon was his life, his love, his heart. Okay, now wasn't the time to think about things that would make him weak, vulnerable. He needed to rely on his training, his strengths; the things that never left you. He was tied up so there was an unknown here that he had to figure it out.
When he'd taken the call from Donald Durnham, he'd been in shock at hearing the man's voice. He'd thought that Double D was dead. He'd been returning to the burning Humvee to see if he and Bailey, in the back, were still alive and if he could get them out, when he'd lost consciousness. Sometime during the long weeks in the hospital, he got reports that the two injured men he'd pulled out were alive and would make it. The two dead were brought back for burial. He hadn't asked about the two he'd been unable to save. They had haunted him.
Finally, he'd managed to give up and had gone on with his life. Years later now, he seldom woke from dreams of that night, but when he did, it was Double D and Bailey he saw, reaching for him with bloody hands, fingers curled.
"I know you're awake, Cap'n, you might as well open your eyes and see your new reality."
Soldier knew that voice. "Double D?" His voice was raspy and his throat hurt.
"Give the man another Silver Star." Disdain was evident in the words.
"I thought you were dead, D. I was shocked as hell when you called me. I had to come." He had to pause and take a breath before going on. He felt so tired. "You asked me for help. Why are you doing this?" Soldier asked.
"Why do you think? You left me. You saved everybody, but me and Bailey, and he didn't live through what those motherfuckers did to him. You should have got me out, Cap'n."
Soldier opened his eyes since Donald had been coming closer as he talked. He opened them slowly, got them used to the bright light so he wasn't squinting. He had to show no weakness until he found out what was going on.
"Why did you call me and ask me for help if you just wanted to...what? What do you want, D?" Soldier kept his voice calm, not wanting to cause Donald to go off. Clearly there was something really wrong with the man.
"Seriously? Did you see me that night? I tried to get to you, D, but you were in the back and I had to get the others out to get to you."
"Hell, they were dead, Cap'n. You wasted time dragging two dead bodies out and left us to die." Donald's voice was quiet; he wasn't raving mad. Soldier didn't know if that scared him more than irrational ranting would have or not.
"You don't leave soldiers behind, even if they're dead. Besides, I had to get them out of the way to get to you. The doors weren't working and I had to crawl through." Soldier knew every single move he'd made that night, since he'd lived through it over and over.
"But you did. You did leave soldiers behind."
Now Soldier was looking up into Donald's face. Whoa. Time had not been good to Double D. He was wearing a pair of old Army fatigues with a dirty, stained T-shirt. All the pockets were bulging so Soldier figured he had plenty of weapons. D had gained a lot of weight and looked unwell. His face was flushed and his eyes bloodshot. Soldier suspected alcohol abuse. He hated to think of the soldier he'd served with ending up like this. What was he thinking? He hated that this soldier had him tied to a bed even more.
Double D obviously wanted to get back at Soldier, and having Soldier at his mercy was making D's day. But Soldier wouldn't give Donald the satisfaction of twisting and straining against the ropes. That was evidently what the man wanted. Well, Soldier wasn't wasting time and energy, tearing up his wrists and ankles in the process.
No, he'd find a way, when he wasn't being watched. He'd get away and go back to Dillon and his boys. He was sure Donald wasn't so far gone as to have left a trail for them to follow. All they knew was that he was going to Denver to meet with his former Army buddy.
"D, I was heading back for you and I passed out. I didn't know anything until I woke up in a hospital in Germany. Then things were groggy until I woke again in Bethesda. I had a lot of surgeries and I kind of checked out for a while. I'm sorry. Really. I tried, D, I swear I tried." He tried to lick his lips. They felt cracked, but he didn't have enough moisture in his mouth to do it.
"Well, you didn't try hard enough, Cap'n. Try don't mean nothin' unless you get the job done. That's what my daddy always said, and if I didn't do it right, well, he made sure I did next time, that's for sure."
"Okay, I understand you being upset at being left, but I thought you were dead, like Tiny and Emo. What do you want with me now?" Soldier asked. It occurred to him to wonder how long he'd been out. "Where am I?" he asked. "How long was I out? What are you planning?"
"You're just full of questions now, aren't you? I think you should get to experience some of the things that happened to me when them towel heads got hold of me." Still that voice was calm, dead sounding.
"You were captured? Damn, D, I had no idea. Come on, man, you know I tried to get to you. I didn't see anyone around after the truck blew. We all thought that village was deserted. I don't know what to say, what you want me to say? Do you need help? I would be glad to help you in any way I can. I came when you called, didn't I?"
Yeah, he wished he'd checked into things a bit more before blindly heading out, leaving his family, Dillon, all of it, to come to the aid of his fellow soldier. Live and learn, Soldier, live and learn.
"Isn't that nice? You're going to help me? Where were you when I needed you?" Now the voice was taking on a little more force.
"I think I was in the hospital, probably in surgery, or in so much pain I was doped up to where I wasn't sure where I was half the time. But that's neither here nor there. Clearly, the fact that I was not available doesn't help what you're feeling, or planning. Back to that, could you take these ropes off and let's talk like fellow soldiers?"
"Not likely. You're in too good 'a shape to let you loose. You'd have me out in seconds. I've seen you in combat. Naw, I think I'll leave you like that for a while."
"So, why am I undressed? You thought my clothes made me more dangerous?" Soldier was trying to get an idea for what D was planning.
"Hmph, wouldn't you like to know? I saw all your scars, by the way. I don't have a lot of scars on the outside. My head's messed up, though, but you probably figured that out, huh?"
"D, all our heads are messed up after serving in the war. It's how you decide to handle the rest of your life that's important. So far, you haven't done anything that will put you away. Let me go, untie me, we'll talk, I'll arrange help for you, and this will go nowhere. But believe me, if you don't, when I'm considered missing, you don't know the number of people who will come after me." Soldier knew it was true, but he hoped it didn't get to that point.
"Lots of soldier buddies?" Donald sneered.
"No, as a matter of fact, none. Lots of family, though, lots." Soldier almost lost it then thinking about the men in his family and how they'd banded together to rescue two of their brothers who'd been abducted recently. Lord, they would come like a raging force if they knew he was in danger, and it was beginning to look like he was. Damn. He forced himself to use thoughts of them, memories of them, to gain strength.
How had Donald managed to get him here? He didn't feel like he'd been hit on the head, no pain. Drugged?
"You're pretty smart, huh? How'd you get me here? I don't remember anything after you meeting me at the airport. I saw you, we talked. I remember walking out, then nothing. Drugs?"
"Not at first, you know there are ways to knock people out without hitting them or drugging them. Pressure points. Works every time. Since we've been here, I'll admit I've used some sedatives to keep you out while I was making plans. I'm gonna go now, leave you here to wonder what's going to happen. Hope you think about that big family you were talking about. By the way, I know all about every one of them. Oh, and I'm not working alone. You better think about all them little boys."
What did he mean by that? Soldier was aware of his body, burning up before, now feeling like he was encased in ice.
"D! Don't leave. Let me up. I can help you. I wanted to help you that night. Tell me what happened to you. I want to know." Soldier had to try to get D talking, making sense, and hopefully giving him some idea on how he could get the man to release him. He wanted to ask what D had meant about his family, but didn't want to give D the satisfaction of begging for that information.
Soldier wasn't about to start making promises about money, but if he could get Donald to talk about how close the whole unit used to be and make him understand that he really had tried to get to Donald that night, maybe he would get lax in his plan and Soldier could get free somehow. D would have to let him go to the bathroom sometime, feed him, something. Unless he planned on starving him, torturing him, humiliating him.
Soldier looked around the area. He was in some sort of old cabin with no furniture other than the wooden bed he was on. Actually, it felt like he was lying on a solid piece of wood, not slats, and there was no bedding. He looked around and found that there was no door. He tried to look down and see if he could determine that it was the door he was on. It was! Now he wondered if there might be some kind of hardware or something from an old hinge on the door that he could use to cut through the ropes. There were no traffic sounds at all, so he figured they were nowhere near the city of Denver. Where in the hell were they and how could his family find him? He knew they'd be looking. There was no doubt of that.
"D! Hey, I gotta go to the bathroom. You gonna let me up or not? Is there anywhere out here to go?"
Donald came back in, stood by the open door, and just looked at Soldier.
"You decided you're ready to try and take me on, huh? You think when I let you up, you'll overpower me and that will be the end of it, but if you try, if you even act like you're going to try, your pretty lover will be the first one that Mark kills. Then, if he doesn't hear from me within the next couple of hours, it will be someone else at that place." D laughed then and said, "Ooh, look at those mean eyes. Did my mentioning your pretty man upset you, make you furious? What about them two little white-headed boys? They sure are cute. Your phone's got such sweet pictures on it. They'd be easy to pick off, playin' in the backyard with that little black and white dog. Hey, there's an idea. Maybe we'll start with the pup and work our way up."
"I won't try anything, D. I promise. I might not even be able to walk. Just don't hurt my family. And, who's Mark?" Who in the hell was Mark, and how was he going to get away from D if it meant harm could come to anyone at Scarcity?